National News

Regional students need better uni access

A young person living in Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek's inner-Sydney electorate is twice as likely to go to university as one living in Education Minister Dan Tehan's rural Victorian seat.

Both politicians say that stark fact is a problem for Australia's future.

"We've absolutely got to ensure as our higher ed sector continues to flourish ... that we have to make sure that that (money) is spread around, that every Australian will benefit from it," Mr Tehan told the Universities Australia annual conference in Canberra on Thursday.

"The facts are that we've still got work to do in that regard."

He spoke of coming to Canberra for the first time as a graduate working in the foreign affairs department - where a team bonding session involving herding sheep didn't faze the farm boy - and how grateful he was for the educational opportunities that allowed him to get there.

"If I hadn't had a masters degree, I would not have been a part of those graduates who were going on to represent our nation."

The government has former Victorian premier Denis Napthine developing a national regional, rural and remote education strategy and is looking at ways to harness the massive international education sector and encourage more than three per cent of foreign students to attend regional campuses.

If Labor wins office, it plans to launch a comprehensive review of post-secondary education - encompassing universities, TAFE and other vocational education - that would look in part at support for students from rural and regional areas and how to get more of them into university.

It will appoint a specific regional and remote commissioner to this review, Ms Plibersek announced on Thursday.

She told the conference there were still too many young Australians who missed out on higher education.

"I think it is a serious failing of our system that someone on the north shore of Sydney is four times more likely to have a degree than someone in outback Northern Territory," she said.

She outlined a range of measures Labor hopes will "turbocharge" efforts to get more regional and remote, indigenous and disadvantaged students into university, including restoring demand-driven funding, preserving an existing participation program and setting up regional study hubs.

The outgoing chairwoman of Universities Australia, Margaret Gardner, said student access was at the heart of the sector's large impact.

"Good policy allows the system to flourish for the benefit of all," she said.

"Poor policy choices constrain the benefits and have the potential to diminish the essence of university life - the creation and dissemination of new knowledge."

© AAP 2019